The social media world has created a conundrum for both organizations and individual users alike.  On one hand, the new digital media gives new opportunities to market their products or mission.  Users, however, are becoming more savvy as to how to use these tools, so even though more gates to more markets may be open, an individual user in an odd way can display multiple personalities--or more specifically, there are more gatekeepers that can obstruct that message from reaching an organization’s target audience.  To that end, let me share what I see occurring with that famed “trifecta” of social media:  Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Facebook

Yes, Facebook has surpassed Google in Internet traffic, but with more users come more distractions.  Users have become more savvy at limiting who interacts with them on Facebook--that annoying company or barely-remembered high school friend can be easily hidden from one’s newsfeed.  Facebook is still a great way to launch a small company, promote a new campaign, and gauge the zeitgeist of consumer markets.

Judging by the Facebook pages I administer, the trick is regular posting that is not too aggressive.  Post way too often and become crassly self-promoting, and users will drop you; fall off the face of the earth, and users forget about you.  For a company looking for feedback on a new product, Facebook is a great tool; for a media company that wants to engage readers in dialogue, The Social Network can be that public square; if you blandly post links to content on your site, all you do is bore people.

At a fundamental level, I look at Facebook as a great way to interact with consumers or stakeholders at a B-to-C level.  When I have to disclose my private information to a company, however, I find that a tad creepy--unfortunately that appears to be the norm.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn was like Monster.com 10 to 12 years ago:  a great professional tool.  Despite passing the 100 million user mark, LinkedIn has recently lost its luster and is often a magnet for junk content.  The idea of having an online rolodex is still a great one, and the groups (you can join 50 with a free ID), can provide opportunities to meet and connect with some great professionals in your job function, industry, or region.  The issue are the trolls who add people like candy to their network and post links on discussion groups that are less than useless to their peers.  I find I have to cut through a lot of chaff to find compelling people with ideas; I often I feel LinkedIn is just way too much work.  Yelps like “I have 800 contacts” fail to impress me--you are better off with a network of a few hundred maximum, if even that many, that actually know you, trust you, and will advocate for you.

I do believe that quality trumps quantity:  I stick to my mantra that if someone tries to add me out of the blue (like a stalking middle school principal from an undisclosed country who insists on adding me, even though he admitted he has no idea who I am), I politely ask why, and then decide if I will add him or her.  I am the world’s laziest LinkedIn user but still have over 400 contacts.  Just don’t ask me who they all are.

Many of the LinkedIn groups have split into “subgroups,” and now everyone with a cause or event wants to create a LinkedIn group.  View LinkedIn groups like dating:  just because a group has 20,000 members does not mean it is worth your time.  In fact, being a big fish in a small pond may be a better move.  If a LI group does nothing, trade it in for another.  Personally, I am not a fan that more groups have become “public,” but I have not seen evidence that past postings and responses of mine have been slathered all over search engines.

For me, LinkedIn is more of a B-to-B forum.  It can be a great way to find vendors, suppliers, potential partners, and at a personal level, mentors or peers.  Just be prepared to click through a lot of pages.

Twitter

Twitter is the most misunderstood, maligned, and under-appreciated social media platform.  For those of us who are deeply engaged with this micro-blogging giant, however, the secret has long been out.  Twitter is not only about blurting what you had about breakfast (though you can still do that!).  I use Twitter as a research tool, to gauge what people are thinking about an issue, and to follow a news event--everything from a company’s announcement to say, a Middle Eastern dictator fumbling his way out of power.

Twitter is a great way to have a conversation on a topic, whether scheduled and calculated, or simply ongoing and organic in nature (like Elizabeth Taylor’s passing, or the release of a new sustainability report).  I would say that the past several months, I have networked with more professionals more via Twitter than LinkedIn, and way more than Facebook (which I relegate to friends, family, and people I have met, intuitively trust, and feel a personal connection).  The ability to frame a debate with those hashtags (#) has helped me with my personal development.  At the same time, those hashtags are also the path to creating cliques, analogous to high school cafeterias where geeks, jocks, and stoners were segregated.

The trick with Twitter is to stay focused on topic (in my case, corporate social responsibility), promote the work of others, not your own (I retweet like a fiend), and shout out to people you admire (Murninghan Post gets at least one wink daily).  Do not “misunderestimate” Twitter.  Learn how to manage a third party dashboard like TweetDeck, spend time on your smartphone Twitter app while in line at TJ’s, and you will be a Twitter aficionado!  Finally, Twitter can be a great job-hunting and recruitment tool.  Speaking of which:  follow me on Twitter! (wink)

Others

We may be at the peak of the social media bubble, if Warren Buffett is correct.  I believe other platforms, some dear death, others not yet released, have potential.  Ning allows you to create very niched social media groupings:  some are way better than others.  Some sites combine blogging, events, and profiles, but too many of them rely on “donated” content, and the quality shows.

The fact is that depending on your industry, function, or openness to new forms of communicating, you need a balance.  Social media will never replace old media--they complement each other, and the fact is that social media often feeds old media, keeping the latter relevant in an odd way.

By the way, the phone, and face-to-face contact, still are important:  perhaps now more than ever.

GreenGoPost will launch quarterly reviews of trends in social media and corporate social responsibility next week;  stay tuned!

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.